10 things to know before visiting Atlanta

My Atlanta story began in 1990, when my parents moved their young family to the metro area so they could pursue new job opportunities. It was an exciting time to grow up in the unofficial capital of the South. Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, was in his third and final term; local leaders were working on their successful bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics; and Freaknik, the biggest college party for historically Black college and university (HBCU) students, had already gained a national reputation.

As an adult I’ve moved away from home a few times, but this city always seems to draw me back in. I find new ways to fall in love with Atlanta every time I move back. If you’re planning a visit, here are a few insider tips to help you navigate our rules, culture and even the streets.

Explore the World of Coca-Cola to learn more about the ubiquitous beverage that originated in Atlanta © karenfoleyphotography / Alamy Stock Photo

1. Plan to spend at least three days in the A 

It’ll take a first-time visitor at least two days to see all the typical sites, starting with Atlanta’s downtown tourist district – home to the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola museum and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, all within the same square. Centennial Olympic Park is a short walk away. The King Historic District is about a five-minute drive from there, but given the legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, it needs time to absorb it all. After that, visitors can choose their own adventure by exploring Atlanta’s neighborhoods; strolling along the Beltline, a 22-mile multi-use trail; or getting a seat at one of Atlanta’s award-winning restaurants. 

Add these top experiences to your Atlanta itinerary.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia
Piedmont Park looks good in any season © Shutterstock / Sean Pavone

2. Know the pros and cons of each season 

Summertime is filled with incredible festivals and outdoor celebrations, but brace yourself for 90°F (32°C) temperatures and sweltering humidity. Winters are mild, but there’s considerably less to do in Atlanta since Southerners don’t appreciate cold weather of any kind. Spring and fall are magical times in the city, but check with your allergist first. Atlanta gets blanketed in pollen, particularly in the spring thanks to our abundant tree cover, but at least we can all admire the blooming dogwood trees while we sneeze.

3. Prepare to see and be seen in Atlanta

Atlanta doesn’t believe partying should be limited to the night. Day parties and restaurants with a lounge atmosphere – a term one website aptly called the clubstaurant – are plentiful. This style may be strange to some visitors. The popular TikTok food critic Keith Lee was shocked by the lack of hospitality at some of these businesses. But to enjoy them like a local, go for the vibes, not for traditional restaurant service.

4. Sunday booze sales can be confusing 

Southern cities have a complicated relationship with alcohol sales on Sunday, and Atlanta is no different. It can be tough to keep track of the regulations, especially when ordinances change from county to county. If you’re in the city limits of Atlanta, you can order a Sunday morning mimosa or bloody mary at brunch beginning at 11am. If you’re outside of Atlanta/Fulton County, be aware that the local laws may be different.

5. Getting around without a car is challenging 

MARTA is Atlanta’s public transportation system, and it’s generally reliable and safe. Many people use the train’s red and yellow lines to get to and from the airport, but the train system isn’t robust enough to take locals or visitors to all of the area’s best offerings, which are sprawled across a large metro area. Renting a car or using rideshare apps are your best options. Local politicians haven’t managed to keep up with infrastructure to support the city’s rapidly growing population, so spontaneous traffic jams occur regularly. Make sure you plan ahead for any timed entries.

Navigate like a local with these tips for getting around.

6. Atlanta has all the Peachtree Streets 

Whoever was in charge of naming streets in Atlanta seemed to run out of ideas. You’ll notice a lot of roads are named after peach trees. On one hand, it’s cute because Georgia is known as the peach state, but the charm tends to wear off quickly. At last count, 71 roads in Atlanta have Peachtree in the name. It can get confusing quickly, so pay attention to the details to see if you’re looking for Peachtree Street, Road, or Way.

7. Fill your soul with local cuisine

You can’t come to the South without filling up on soul food, and Atlanta has some iconic options for you. Look out for local favorites such as shrimp and grits, and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. Then try new classics like lemon pepper wings. For eclectic international offerings, try the food hall at Ponce City Market, Buford Highway Farmers Market or East Atlanta Village.

Other states may disagree, but here, we embrace the diner food chain Waffle House. It was founded in Avondale Estates, a suburb of Atlanta, after all. Most people have their hash brown order memorized, whether it’s smothered (with sautéed onions), covered (in melted cheese), diced (with chopped tomatoes) or capped (with mushrooms).

8. Saying Hotlanta will get you the side eye 

Yes, we know Atlanta gets hot in the summertime, and yes, we also know our city is poppin’ with fun things to do all year long. But neither of those truths would ever warrant someone calling the city Hotlanta. The nickname may have been acceptable when it was first coined in the 20th century, but today it will instantly label you as an outsider. Casual nicknames locals prefer are “the A,” and “A-T-L.” If you’re looking for more high-brow nicknames, The Gate City and the City in a Forest also apply, but are not typically used in casual conversation.

The tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in the MLK National Historical Park
Atlanta-born Martin Luther King Jr is memorialized alongside his wife, Coretta Scott King, in the city’s National Historical Park © sframephoto / Getty Images

9. Black culture is intrinsically connected to Atlanta

Atlanta has the second largest population of Black Americans in the US, behind New York City. But that’s not the only reason why the Black community sees Atlanta as a central city for the culture. It’s also home to four HBCUs and Tyler Perry Studios, and has deep roots in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Atlanta has remained a major hub for hip hop, from early pioneers such as Frank Ski and Kilo Ali and legends like OutKast, Ludacris and T.I. to fresh talents including Two Chains, Gucci, Future and 21 Savage. 

People carry large balloon letters that spell out "Proud" as they walk in the annual pride parade in Atlanta, Georgia (2023)
Atlanta is an LGBTQ-friendly city © Blulz60 / Getty Images

10. Atlanta embraces our LGBTQ+ community 

Atlanta is also a hub for the Black queer community, and has been for at least two decades. Every Labor Day weekend the community comes together to celebrate Atlanta Black Pride. But there are opportunities to celebrate all year long, whether it’s during Atlanta Pride in October, or at any of the city’s gay bars and clubs, including the established favorites, Bulldogs and My Sister’s Room. 

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